Published Nov 10, 2015Now that's more like it.
Last year's bug-riddled, French Revolution-set Unity felt like a dagger in the side of Ubisoft's annual historical sandbox series — one amplified by the controversy over the tone-deaf explanation for a lack of a playable female assassin in multiplayer.
But the 2015 edition — set predominantly in 1868, at the tail-end of the Industrial Revolution — not only boasts stronger code and no pointless multiplayer, it also stars charming and well-developed twins Evie and Jacob Frye, meaning players have a choice between playing as either the male or female sibling as they go about reclaiming Victorian-era London from Templar control.
The twins are among the last of the assassin order left in this region during this time period. so they decide to take over and unite the city's organized crime syndicates — hence the title — to unwittingly enlist them in this front of the centuries-spanning war that the AC series has been chronicling. The non-linear storyline of taking down the Templar conspiracy and improving the lives of each era's version of the 99 per cent is easy enough to follow here, and thankfully lacks the self-seriousness and narrative convolution of the series' overarching meta story about pieces of Eden and something-something.
As per usual, the game depends on your taste for open-world exploration, the art of parkour and any specific interest in this particular time period. Oh, and assassinating people. Because you do that a lot.
Personally, I'm a huge fan of franchise's basic conceit of providing a historical sandbox to play in — even if I theoretically care less for Victorian London than I do for, say, the pirate-riddled Caribbean of Black Flag or the Renaissance-era Florence of Assassin's Creed II.
The attention to world-building detail in terms of both city planning and graphical fidelity is rather remarkable and pulled me in — London's six boroughs are about 30 percent larger than Paris was, but you can totally hijack horse-drawn carriages to navigate it, and the new rope-launcher, which functions both like Batman's grapnel gun and a zip line, improves rooftop travel. Plus, the real-world celebs of the time — Alexander Graham Bell, Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, etc. — are pretty cool to interact with. The side-quests range from ghostbusting with Charles Dickens to freeing children from factory labour to establishing and expanding your own gang, The Rooks.
But the coolest part of the game is the ability to switch between the two protagonists, who as well as boasting pretty great banter and occasional sibling squabbles also have separate story arcs and play styles, as he's theoretically better at close-quarters combat while she's smarter and stealthier. Usually, it's players choice, though each also have locked-in story missions that push the plot along.
It also makes clear why playable female characters can make games better for everyone. After playing as so many male assassins over the years, Evie immediately gives the long-running franchise a much-needed freshness. (Ubisoft)